There are plenty of pieces of food safety legislation applicable to businesses working in the UK, and keeping track of all of them can be difficult. Each law or set of regulations is related to a slightly different aspect of food safety, but all include details of standards that businesses need to comply with and what constitutes an offence if they do not.
Several key pieces of food legislation cover the main offences that you need to be aware of in order to ensure you comply with the law and avoid any fines or penalties. In this article, we introduce these main pieces of legislation and explain the food safety offences outlined in each.
Food safety legislation is any legal guidance surrounding the safe handling, preparation and serving of food products. These laws tend to be aimed toward businesses that provide customers with food and drink and usually place the business owner in a position of responsibility to ensure that this legislation is upheld.
The key pieces of food safety legislation are:
This piece of legislation was introduced to protect public health by managing the standard of food that is served or sold by a range of businesses. It also established the Food Standards Agency, which is an organisation that enforces food safety laws and offers guidance on how to follow them.
The Food Safety Act is the backbone of most other pieces of food safety legislation, and holds businesses responsible for ensuring that the products they serve or distribute don’t harm the health of the customers who purchase them. This includes the way that the food is stored and prepared but also how food products are packaged and labelled.
This is a law that affects all food in the European Union and aims to ensure that any products placed on the market in the union are safe to consume. As well as general guidance on health and safety, it also covers safe imports and exports and how to trace the origins of food products to ensure that they are safe.
The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations are a piece of national legislation that only applies to businesses in England. They were introduced because of the EU Hygiene Regulations and focus on how local authorities have the power to enforce UK food regulations, work with businesses to maintain standards, and trace the origins of food products in England. The legislation refers to different EU Regulations relating to food laws and outlines how these regulations will be measured and enforced.
Finally, this piece of legislation outlines the information that food businesses must give to customers about the ingredients present in their food and the food they serve or prepare in their kitchen. It particularly applies to allergens and the way that allergens are labelled on different food products so that customers can make safe choices about what they consume.
The majority of responsibilities under food legislation are placed on the owner or the proprietor of the business that is producing or serving food products. In most cases, they are identified as responsible for ensuring that their business is abiding by the law and then putting systems and training in place so that their employees adhere to the relevant regulations as well.
However, there are also cases where this responsibility isn’t as simple. A business owner is rarely carrying out all of the food preparation and serving tasks themselves, which means that employees may be partly responsible for food safety as well.
In the end, it’s the business owner that will face legal consequences if their establishment is found to be in breach of any food safety laws and regulations. They need to ensure that all employees are aware of the health and safety procedures they should be following to keep themselves and the customers safe, but it is the employee's responsibility to remember these rules and follow them.
Each piece of food safety legislation outlines what businesses are required to do to comply with the regulations and therefore what counts as an offence if these regulations are not complied with. Below, we explain the offences under food safety legislation for four of the key laws surrounding this topic.
The Food Standards Act is mainly a piece of legislation that establishes the FSA as a governing body over food health and safety, so there aren’t any specific offences outlined in this law.
However, it does state that the Food Standards Agency has the power to develop policies relating to food safety, to observe “any aspect of the production or supply of food or food sources” and to request that local authorities investigate and provide them with information about food products. It’s not a direct offence, but failing to comply with relevant food safety policy established by the FSA, or resisting investigative efforts ordered by the FSA, can get a business into serious trouble.
There are three main offences described in this act:
“Rendering food injurious to health” which is detailed in section 7 of the Act, refers to any action that makes food unsafe to consume, such as adding a dangerous substance to it, removing an important ingredient from it which renders to product unsafe, or subjecting a product to a harmful process or treatment. The substance added to a food product doesn’t have to be directly harmful by nature; knowingly adding too much of an ingredient or allergen to a product in a way that could harm certain customers counts as an offence.
The act describes “food which is not of the nature or substance or quality demanded” as any food product advertised as one thing but actually consists of another (labelling turkey as chicken, for example). It also includes products that contain substances or ingredients that are harmful, or products which fail to contain appropriate levels of substances in line with statutory requirements. This description also covers products which fail to meet statutory quality standards.
Businesses “falsely or misleadingly describing or presenting food” involve products that have been incorrectly labelled in a way that fails to accurately describe their “nature, substance or quality”. This could involve failing to mention allergens that are present in a product on its packaging, or describing a product as including certain ingredients or flavours when it does not.
The Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations firstly state that any business believe to not be meeting the standards outlined in EU Regulations 852/2004, 853/2004, 854/2004, 2073/2005 and 2075/2005 may be served a ‘hygiene improvement notice’ by an authorised officer or local authority member. This notice gives a business less than 14 days to follow the health and safety measures suggested to them to remove the perceived hygiene issue, and failure to do so is classed as an offence.
This may result in a business owner being prohibited from managing a food business, and it is an offence if they ignore this and continue to do so.
In cases of hygiene emergency prohibition, authorised officers are required to display a notice of this hygiene risk on the premises of the offending business. Anyone found to be removing or obstructing this notice is committing an offence under the act.
Remedial action notices and detention notices are covered in this legislation, and refer to notices where an authorised officer determines that equipment or areas of the premises pose a hygiene risk and should not be used, or that a certain product or animal poses a hygiene risk. In both cases, a notice will be given and the use of this equipment/area/product should be stopped immediately, and failing to do so counts as an offence.
This legislation also highlights offences relating to specific EU provisions in Regulation 852/2004 and Regulation 853/2004, which relate to the hygiene of slaughterhouses. More information on these specific offences can be found here.
Finally, any food that “has not been produced, processed or distributed in compliance with the Hygiene Regulations” will be treated as “failing to comply with food safety requirements” and the business responsible will be classed as committing an offence under these regulations.
The Food Information Regulations make it the responsibility of a food business operator to comply with the specific food labelling requirements issued under EU law. Any business that does not follow the allergen labelling provision that EU FIC laid out is committing an offence by failing to let the consumer know all the potentially harmful ingredients in a product which could affect allergy sufferers.
Whilst there are plenty of pieces of legislation that involve aspects of food safety, the two main laws are The Food Safety Act (1990) and The Food Hygiene Regulations (2006). These two laws outline the responsibilities that businesses serving food have to ensure that they keep their staff and customers safe, and failure to do so counts as a legal offence.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is the regulatory body in the UK that is responsible for creating laws and regulations surrounding food safety, but local authorities are actually responsible for enforcing these laws. If customers or staff have concerns about the safety or hygiene of a business handling and serving food, they should report it to the local authority and the food hygiene department will investigate and charge the business with an offence if necessary.
If a business is found to be in breach of food safety legislation then the owner or proprietor of the business will be prosecuted. This is because they are the person deemed responsible for meeting safety standards in all food safety laws, so even if other employees have also been following illegal guidance, it is the business owner that will be punished.
There are too many specifics covered in all food safety legislation to detail in a single article, but above we have covered all of the most important offences enforced by law. If you’re in doubt about whether you’re complying with legal guidance, it is always best to consult the official legislation or seek help from an organisation like the Food Standards Agency to ensure your business isn’t at risk of any legal action.
You can also learn more about relevant food safety laws by completing our ‘Legislation Relating to the Service of Food and Beverages’ online course which offers an excellent introduction to relevant laws and guidelines.